The new managing director of the Dutch women’s football league and professor of Johan Cruyff Institute, Paul ten Hag, assumes the big challenge of creating a stronger league with financial value so that women’s football will continue to grow
On August 7, 2017, the Dutch women’s football team became the new European champions after defeating Denmark in a historic final of the UEFA European Championship. Those women had managed to keep the whole country in suspense for three weeks and ended up lifting the cup with the added glory of being the host team. They themselves will never forget it, but it will take much more for the success to persist and continue to attract the attention of the masses and the interest of the sponsors.
“After the Dutch women’s team won the European Championship, people thought that the successes would attract lots of commercial and media attention for the Dutch national competition, but that did not happen. Once again, it proved that an event is quite different both in fan experience and perception, and in commercial and media attractiveness,” says Paul ten Hag, the new managing director of the Dutch women’s league (‘Coöperatie Eredivisie Vrouwen, CEV’), and professor of the module Sport & Facility / Event Management at the Johan Cruyff Institute. “My challenges as the managing director are to stimulate the clubs to work together, share knowledge, get more fans to the stadiums, get the attention of business partners and sponsors, and create more (financial) value”, explains Paul.
Paul ten Hag has been a professor at Johan Cruyff Institute in Amsterdam for quite some years now and has taught hundreds of students about event, facility and hospitality management during that time. He gained his experience as Director of Facilities & Sport Services at Nike, where he worked for over 11 years. In the past three years, he has worked as managing director at the national archery federation, before accepting the new challenge as managing director of the Dutch women’s football league.
It’s quite a challenge for the new CEO to help women’s football grow within the tough football industry. “Half of the male professional football clubs who are participating in the Dutch Premier League, called ‘Eredivisie’, have a women’s team, but in most cases the teams are not integrated in their organization and infrastructure. The women’s Eredivisie teams are organized in foundations with their own general, technical and medical staff, their own budget and a separate infrastructure. This makes it difficult sometimes. The ideal situation is to create financially healthy women’s Eredivisie clubs, who can pay their female players reasonable salaries to live on, and to keep the players in the Dutch competition for a longer period. Many women quit because of the lack of money and because of other interests in their lives and only the very good players go abroad at a young age to earn the money they need for a living. At the moment, the average age in the Dutch women’s league is around 21.”
The women’s football network is a target group of 700,000 people. If we can get those people on board, we’ll become more attractive to media, business partners and sponsors
“The Dutch Football Federation KNVB has nearly 160,000 female members (60% girls and 40% young women) and the women’s football network (parents, family, friends) is a target group of 700,000 people,” the CEO says optimistically. “It would be interesting to get them all on board, which will make us more attractive for media, business partners and sponsors.”
Women’s football is rapidly growing and becoming more popular amongst girls. However, it’s a completely different world compared to men’s football. “Diversity is a common and popular item these days and I believe that women should be treated the same as men, but women’s football should not be compared to men’s football. I think that women’s football deserves its own identity, just like women’s field hockey, volleyball and handball for example.”
Events slowly become more interesting than competitions, both for fans and for businesses and media
As the core professor of the module Sport & Facility/Event Management, and with the knowledge he gained during his time at Nike, Paul is a true specialist in the field of event, hospitality and facility management, and he has a clear view on sport events and their future changes: “I’ve noticed that events slowly become more interesting than competitions, both for fans and for businesses and media. I do believe that organizing sport events can contribute to the development of women’s football. In the future, we might decide to cluster the weekly competition games into an event style.”
“I have also noticed a change in the locations of sport events,” Ten Hag continues. “Events are also being organized in city centers – close to the people – instead of at more remote locations. The 2015 European Beach Volleyball Championships held in the city centers of four cities in the Netherlands are a great example of how people like to visit sport events nowadays. I expect that sport events will beat sport competitions in terms of popularity and attractiveness in the near future since events are short, more attractive and less boring compared to a long season of competitions.”
The future of events is all about creating your own experience, to meet your personal interests
Ten Hag also has a clear view on the new technologies applied to sport events. New technologies have changed the way we consume sport. Today, we’re not only talking about stadiums, but about smart stadiums. “There are lots of technical developments that are evolving at high speed. Good examples are the techniques that are offering options to repeat the finest moments on your mobile or selecting the images you like best. It’s all about choosing your own event specifications, to create your own experience and meet your personal interests. This evolution will not stop.”
With all the changes within the event business, event managers also need to develop their skills. But what is the secret of a successful event manager? “As an event manager nowadays, you need competences in the area of brand building, strategy and planning, communication, logistics, budgeting and sales. The skills can be divided into ‘technical skills’, like time management, technology knowledge and organizational skills, but the most important factors for being or becoming a successful event manager are the ‘soft skills’; They are personal qualities, such as being flexible, creative, a good listener, energetic and passionate.”
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